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Russia: U.S. Millionaire Becomes World's Third Space Tourist

An American millionaire has blasted off on a Russian Soyuz rocket bound for the International Space Station. The Soyuz lifted off early today from Kazakhstan with Gregory Olsen and two astronauts on board. Olsen is the third tourist to take a holiday in space.

Prague, 1 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It's not everybody's idea of a perfect holiday.

Olsen had to spend more than 900 hours training to prepare for this mission.

There are few creature comforts on board the Soyuz. And the price tag for this package holiday is out of this world -- $20 million according to some reports.

But Olsen, a 60-year-old grandfather, is in a select club -- only two other men have paid to go into space before him.

And he says he'll be doing more than just enjoying the scenery -- he's scheduled to conduct experiments studying the body's response to the low-gravity environment.

Yesterday ahead of take-off, he admitted he was slightly nervous. But he said he was looking forward to this journey of a life-time.

"The vehicle is in great shape, we looked at it yesterday. We are all set to go, the crew is ready and I am ready," Olsen said.

Olsen will spend 10 days in space. But the crew taking him up face a much longer trip.

U.S. Commander William McArthur and Russian Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev will spend six months on the International Space Station after they dock on 3 October.

The two will replace Russian Sergei Krikalev and American John Phillips, who have been at the space station since April.

The final task for the outgoing crew -- to take Olsen back to earth.